The climate action survey launched by ICECAP and the Georgian Bay Biosphere (GBB) had over 600 respondents. Of the 613 respondents, 43% were seasonal cottagers, 52% were permanent residents, including area First Nations.

“ICECAP” stands for the “Integrated Community Energy and Climate Action Plans” partnership and was formed in 2019. It is open to all area councils and is coordinated by GBB staff. Current members are the Townships of The Archipelago, Carling, Georgian Bay, McDougall, McKellar, Parry Sound, Seguin, Whitestone, and Shawanaga First Nation.

Isabelle Moy, GBB’s Climate Change Program Coordinator and survey designer, said: “It took days to go through all the data this spring but it was clear that people have great pride in the natural beauty of the area and a real desire to protect it. People who took the survey identified actions that could be taken by individuals, households, communities and local governments, while also recognizing more support was needed at provincial and federal levels. I found it encouraging to see how many people participated and how passionate they are about positive environmental change.”

In terms of energy use in buildings, tradespeople who are knowledgeable about energy efficiency, including retrofits and solar power are needed. “One of the largest challenges will be enough qualified tradespeople to do this work – right now there is not enough skilled workers in the area,” said one survey. Most people had already taken steps to save energy at home. Others said they would like more information about financial incentives for retrofits and where to find low-impact or locally-sourced building materials.

In terms of transportation, the top concern was “active transportation” or non-motorized travel which requires better walking and cycling infrastructure. An overwhelming majority (94%) said that it is a priority for them that roads and trails be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Many people identified barriers in terms of the cost of electric vehicles and the lack of infrastructure, and noted that there is an urgent need for more public transport.

Active transportation is already being promoted widely with walking groups, cycling clubs and “Bike to School” campaigns. Nobel School teacher, Cameron MacDonald, organizes a weekly group bike ride to encourage students to ride their bikes more often and to learn bike safety together. He said: “There’s an environmental benefit to kids learning that they can commute using active transportation instead of vehicles. Hopefully we are helping them form life-long habits to stay active and think about biking in their daily routines.”

Beyond the high greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from gas vehicle engines, people also were concerned about pollution from recreational and small engines, such as snowmobiles, jet skis, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers.

The final section of the survey was about reducing GHGs from waste. “It is important to find ways of diverting how much ends up in landfills,” said Moy. As decomposition occurs, methane gas is released, further contributing to climate change.

Some municipalities in the region, such as Seguin Township and the Town of Parry Sound are already working to reduce the estimated 40-60% of organic waste that is going to landfills by promoting composting. 97% of surveys were in support of regional waste management and organics diversion such as a “green bin” program.

When asked how much the region should reduce its GHG emissions, the majority felt it should be by 50% or more by 2050. Many also supported the concept of “net zero” (which would mean balancing emissions produced with those removed from the atmosphere). The Town of Parry Sound already has a goal of becoming one of Canada’s first net zero communities.

Benjamin John is the Climate and Energy Programs Manager for GBB. He says: “The survey made it apparent that there are real concerns about the costs of taking climate action on individuals, particularly those who are disadvantaged or in need. The term ‘climate justice’ conveys the need for climate action that is equitable, affordable, and accessible to all. It is important to ensure that our plans to address climate change do not worsen historical inequities and instead centre around creating a livable future for all.”

“Energy poverty” is a term that applies to households that struggle to meet home energy needs. “We know that most residents in the Parry Sound area are considered to have high home energy cost burdens based on energy prices and households’ after-tax income,” says John. One survey said, “It’s not information that stops our family from making better choices about transportation, it’s cost or access! We would upgrade right away if we could afford it.”

ICECAP member, Jack Tynan, representing the GBB Board, says: “The results of the survey will be used in a Regional Climate Action Plan that is currently in development by GBB staff, ICECAP partners, and experts. The plan will outline how to reduce GHGs using tools such as education, energy retrofit and waste reduction programs, new plans and policies for local governments, and infrastructure improvements. The potential benefits are energy cost savings, improved air quality, more connected communities, and help prepare for the impacts of climate change.”

If you want to learn more about the ICECAP partnership or other ways to get involved with climate action, please go to gbbr.ca/climate. You can also email specific questions to Ben John, the Climate and Energy Program Manager.

Thank you to all the participants of our survey and also to the wonderful local businesses that so generously donated prizes to support Climate Action!